Sen. Rand Paul blamed Hillary Clinton for the current chaos in the Middle East. Sens. Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham said America must define its enemy as “radical Islamic terrorists.” And Sen. Bernie Sanders cautioned against allowing America to engage in yet another drawn-out ground war with an increasingly borderless enemy.
What’s all the fuss about?
President Obama on Wednesday asked Congress for new war powers to go after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the brutal terror group that has wreaked havoc and violence in the Middle East. The president requested a three-year authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) in the offensive against ISIS, which would restrict but not rule out the use of ground forces to combat the terror group. The president’s request would replace the 2002 legislation that authorized the Iraq War but leaves in place a very broadly worded resolution passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
If Congress approves Obama’s plan, the president’s White House successor will inherit the war authorization on Inauguration Day. Here’s how several potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates – plus an Independent and Democrat – reacted to Obama’s proposal.
1. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Paul didn’t commit to supporting Obama’s proposal, but his reaction notably took aim at another potential White House contender: Hillary Clinton. “The disaster that is Libya is now a breeding ground for terrorists, and it’s also a breeding ground for armament. So I really do blame Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya for creating a lot of the chaos that is now spreading throughout the Middle East,” Paul told Fox News Wednesday. Clinton, of course, was Obama’s secretary of state during the Arab Spring uprising that ousted a number of leaders in the Middle East and north Africa. The U.S. launched airstrikes in Libya in 2011 as part of the effort to force Prime Minister Muammar Qaddafi to step down.
Paul said ground troops would be necessary to win the war against ISIS, but he said the Arab nations in the region must take the lead in the effort.
2. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Cruz called on Congress to “strengthen” Obama’s proposal by defining America’s enemy as “radical Islamic terrorists.”
“For several months the Obama Administration has been engaging in military conduct without authorization from Congress, and it is long past time for the White House to seek an AUMF from Congress, which is the only body that has the constitutional authority to declare war,” Cruz said in a statement. “It will be beneficial to have serious public hearings and debates over the plan that was presented. Congress should strengthen the AUMF by making sure the President is committed to clear objectives and a specific plan to accomplish those goals.That should begin by clearly defining the enemy as ‘radical Islamic terrorists.’ We will not be able to win the war against radical Islamic terrorism as long as our Commander-in-Chief refuses to recognize who it is we are fighting.”
3. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. Graham sounded a similar note to Cruz.
4. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Rubio reacted to Obama’s AUMF Wednesday in a floor speech, saying Congress’s authorization could be as simple as one sentence: “I would say there is a pretty simple authorization he could ask for, and it would read one sentence. And that is: ‘We authorize the President to defeat and destroy ISIL, period.’ And that’s, I think, what we need to do,” Rubio said.
5. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Santorum, who campaigned for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, criticized Obama’s AUMF proposal as too narrow, saying that both the time constraints and the limits on ground combat “puts our nation in an untenable position.”
“All options need to be on the table in combating this Radical Islamic threat. We need to take the fight to our enemy without the constraints this Administration is proactively placing upon itself and this President’s successor. The next President needs to be able to have all the tools at their disposal to not just conduct military operations, but win this war. When the President takes our nation to war, the sole objective should be to win, but today’s request by the President puts the lives of our servicemen and women at risk without the tools and latitude to accomplish this goal,” Santorum said in a statement.
6. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Huckabee’s take on the president’s proposal echoed statements by several of his Republican colleagues. Huckabee, too, said the three-year authorization and restrictions on boots on the ground “place counterproductive restraints on our national power, and the military’s ability to accomplish the mission. Huckabee added that Obama must “identify the threat” as “radical Islam.”
7. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders, a self-described socialist senator, said he approves U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in order to protect American citizens.
“It is my firm belief, however, that the war against ISIS will never be won unless nations in the Middle East step up their military efforts and take more responsibility for the security and stability of their region,” the independent senator said in a statement. “The United States and other western powers should support our Middle East allies, but this war will never be won unless Muslim nations in the region lead that fight.”
Sanders added, “I oppose sending U.S. ground troops into combat in another bloody war in the Middle East. I therefore cannot support the resolution in its current form without clearer limitations on the role of U.S. combat troops.”
8. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. O’Malley, a Democrat who is actively weighing a 2016 bid, also said the president should more clearly lay out the “terms of engagement” in the fight against ISIS.
“The new AUMF should address ISIS specifically, and mitigate any unintended consequences by including clear language on the use of ground troops and the length and terms of engagement,” O’Malley wrote on Facebook.
Carrie Dann and Mark Murray of NBC News and Emily Samsel of msnbc contributed reporting.